More than any of the other candidates who could have gotten the Lakers’ head coaching job, Byron Scott will get an extended honeymoon period. While I have expressed my thoughts on more than one occasion about how much Scott’s history as a Laker should matter, the fact is that it does. It mattered to the front office when they made their choice to hire him and it matters to fans now.
More than what matters to fans or Jim Buss or Mitch Kupchak, though, what matters to the players is most important. They’re the ones who will follow Scott into the battle or tune him out. They are the ones who must buy in to what he’s selling in terms of philosophy and then go out on the court and execute his schemes. And of all the players, the one who matters most here is Kobe Bryant. He’s the leader of this team on the floor and if he’s on board the other’s will follow him.
And while it’s only been one day, Scott seems to have Kobe fully on board:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 1, 2014
That was the money quote, but it wasn’t all that Kobe said. From Eric Pincus:
Bryant said he learned how to be a professional under Scott’s tutelage. “Byron dealt with me when I was 17, 18 years old. He knows how to communicate with guys in that position, like [rookie] Julius [Randle who] is 19 years old,” said Bryant. “[Scott is] an absolute professional. It’s no accident that you look at the two young guys on that team, and how we turned out — myself and Derek Fisher.”
After Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni were hired, Kobe also had nice things to say about them but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t feel different. While Kobe was familiar with D’Antoni from their time together with Team USA, his relationship with Scott is much more established and with deeper roots. That relationship can be the foundation of a much stronger working relationship than any Kobe has enjoyed with a coach since Phil Jackson.
Beyond that, though, what Kobe says about being aligned philosophically is probably more important than the ties that history with Scott breeds. One of Mike D’Antoni’s biggest issues was, seemingly, connecting with Kobe and Pau (and, if we go back further, Dwight Howard) to create the buy-in needed to lead them as a group. And while those players tried to say the right things publicly (not always successfully, I might add), it was clear that, after getting a taste of the style that D’Antoni wanted to play, they would have preferred to operate within a different system that focused less on what that coach preached and more on what they had experienced success with under a certain zen practicing head man.
Pau, of course, is gone and we will never truly know how much the butting of heads with the coach mattered in the last few seasons. Was the discord enough to inspire less than maximum effort? Did it affect the execution of the game plan? Did it lead to players freelancing more and not necessarily playing to their fullest potential? Again, we’ll never really know, but none of that seems farfetched. What seems true today, however, is that this will not be the case this season under Scott. At least not for Kobe. And if he’s on board — truly on board — the rest of the team will simply have to go along for the ride. Regardless of how hard Scott pushes them in the process.
How much this translates to wins on the floor is unknown. The team’s talent level — especially defensively — and the unknowns tied to health will matter as much (and likely more) than any amount of chemistry and established good will between the coach and players. But, as I’ve said before, coaching is mainly about two things: scheme and generating the buy-in to execute it. It’s only been one day, but Scott seems to have the latter going for him so far.